Time to make our driver’s license expensive

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Don’t Drink And Write

I don’t know about you, but I got my driver’s license fairly easily. No, I did not pay a fixer to expedite the process, but the whole examination that was supposed to determine whether I knew how to drive or not was a complete travesty of our motoring regulations.

First of all, the written test consisted of trivia questions that were far more suited to a TV game show than a reliable screening system that would expose unqualified license applicants and prevent them from becoming risks to road safety. I have no idea if there was any sound logic or well-grounded psychology to that test.

And then there was no practical exam at all. They simply asked me if I could drive, and I (of course) said yes. They took my word for it and gave me that precious plastic card — without bothering to check if I even knew where the turn-signal stalk was.

And that’s only the story for those who “legitimately” go through the process. Imagine the many more who forgo the formalities altogether and just grease an insider’s palm. They who believe driving is easy because they see a motoring jungle like Metro Manila and think it can’t possibly require formal driving skills — not realizing that the very reason our roads are chaotic is that motorists don’t submit themselves to proper training.

Little wonder we don’t respect our driver’s license. It has no value whatsoever. It’s a joke. In fact, you can get a real-looking fake one in Quiapo for P500, the argument of those who buy them being: “They’re one and the same, a card you can acquire for practically nothing.”

Thankfully, we could see all of this farce coming to a long-overdue end. As you read this, the Land Transportation Office (LTO) has just wrapped up its first initial meetings with a group of reputable driving schools in the country. The agency is quickly moving to follow the mandate of Republic Act 10930, otherwise known as “An Act Rationalizing and Strengthening the Policy Regarding Driver’s License.” Issued in July 2016, this is the decree that extended the validity of our driver’s license from three to five years.

Now that our license is good for half a decade, the government wants applicants to earn it and not just pay for it. In its ongoing consultations with the driving schools, the LTO wants applicants to take a mandatory training course to be administered by an accredited driving school. Which means the agency will no longer conduct the useless test. Instead, professional driving schools will be tasked to train and then evaluate the license applicants, hopefully eliminating fixers and answer keys. There will be specific modules designed for different vehicles: basic, motorcycle, light and heavy.

The proposed course includes 15 hours of lecture complemented by 15 hours of hands-on training. According to my source who’s familiar with the discussions, license applicants will be made to pick from a list of LTO-accredited driving schools and undergo their training there. All driving schools in the Philippines may apply for accreditation if they wish to be included in the program.

The tricky part here — as is always the case in this budget-conscious republic — is the fixed fee to be paid to the driving schools. Since the parties involved are still discussing the details of the program, nothing is final yet. But one suggestion being thrown around is to charge applicants P500 per hour of training, which would make the whole course worth at least P7,500. For average Filipinos, that amount isn’t cheap — almost like applying for a US visa.

I can already see the rants on social media if this gets approved: “prohibitive,” “corrupt,” “anti-poor,” “elitist,” “onerous.”

But then, the privilege of driving should have always been costly to begin with. It’s the only way we will cherish it dearly. Price it high and threaten to take it away if a driver accumulates a certain number of demerits. Let’s see if everyone doesn’t drive far more responsibly. Our driver’s license is so affordable Maria Isabel Lopez couldn’t care less if she lost it.

One way of making the driving school fee more acceptable is to make applicants see the benefits of the training course. Let’s tell them, for instance, that P7,500 is nothing compared to the damages they will avoid in the future if they’re better equipped to handle a steering wheel, or even relative to the traffic violation fines they will dodge if they’re properly educated.

I’m not lobbying on behalf of the LTO or the driving schools. The fee isn’t even final yet. Everything is still in the negotiation stage. All I’m saying is that the driver’s license should come with a hefty price tag. Let’s not give it away. Those who receive it could either safely rush a patient to the hospital or recklessly send another person to the grave. It’s a daunting task and so should cost a lot.

Time to take our motoring licensure seriously. Enough of the Mickey Mouse test.